Evacuation orders were issued and a 50-mile stretch of Interstate 40 was closed Friday after a BNSF train carrying hazardous materials derailed and caught fire near the Arizona-New Mexico state line.   

BNSF DerailmentAccording to the McKinley County Sheriff’s Office, the derailment occurred at approximately 12:41 p.m. and affected 35 railcars. Officials have stated that the train was carrying liquified petroleum gas, though other reports indicate that it may also have been carrying gasoline and non-odorous propane.  

As of Saturday afternoon, all lanes of Interstate 40 west of Gallup have been shut down, affecting traffic in both directions.  New Mexico State Police have stated that there is currently no projected end to the highway closure and is expected to remain closed indefinitely.   Additionally, evacuation orders have been issued for a two-mile radius surrounding the derailment.

During this time, it is critically important that hazards from the materials carried by the train are contained and that communication with the public is ongoing and transparent.   Derailments involving hazardous materials can have long-term implications on the health and safety of residents and visitors in the communities around them.

According to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the Federal Rail Administration is leading the investigation into the derailment and emergency services are on the scene to manage the situation.  

A team of investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board have been also dispatched to begin their own investigation into the incident.  

BNSF Has a History of Causing Fires

BNSF Railway operates one of the largest freight railroad networks in the United States.  Unfortunately, this incident is another in a long history of BNSF causing fires, derailments, and other incidents due to negligence. 

According to Singleton Schreiber attorney Brian Colón, railroad companies like BNSF must be held accountable for prioritizing speed over safety.  “We’ve seen BNSF trains and railways cause devastation across the Western United States.  If negligence is found to be the cause, it is essential to hold the railroad company accountable for the derailment. This includes examining their safety protocols and maintenance records. At Singleton Schreiber, we have years of litigation experience and will be following this situation closely.”

“In fact,” Colón said, “we are currently in litigation against BNSF Railway. We filed suit in January as we believe they are responsible for causing the Tunnel 5 Fire last July.”

The National Transportation Safety Board seems to agree, finding that BNSF equipment was to blame for the Tunnel 5 fire in Washington.   The NTSB report indicated that carbon emissions and brake debris from a BNSF locomotive engine were the cause of that blaze that burned over 500 acres and displaced approximately 1,000 people.  

While this situation is evolving quickly, there is a critical need for a thorough investigation to determine the cause of the derailment in order to understand what went wrong and implement measures to prevent future incidents.  Attorney Brian Colón added, “This incident underscores the need for enhanced safety measures and stricter regulations for transporting hazardous materials to ensure such accidents are minimized in the future.”

Help for Those Affected

It is important for those in the affected areas to follow evacuation orders and safety instructions.  Since communication is crucial at this time, a hotline has been set up at 866-243-4784 for those impacted by the derailment.

However, in the days and weeks following this disaster, those who have been impacted may have questions and not know where to turn for answers.   

“These situations can be extremely difficult and, often, there is not a clear roadmap for where people can turn for answers,” Colón said.  “A law firm with experience handling these types of cases can be a vital source of information.”

If you or someone you know has been affected by the BNSF derailment, contact the fire litigation attorneys at Singleton Schreiber by calling 505-605-2076 or by emailing info@singletonschreiber.com.